In a Better World
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Released: August 2010
In a better world, I would have a job writing movie reviews based on screenings in my primo home studio and would be getting well paid for them. Alas, in this world, I order the movies from the library, watch them when I have time away from everyone else, and then wonder if anyone ever reads the reviews.
So back to the real world. 2010's winner, In a Better World, is at its base a father/son movie (regardless of the bait-and-switch of the movie poster implying it’s a romance). One father, Anton, is a doctor who travels back and forth between his home in Denmark and a refugee camp in war-torn Sudan. His marriage and relationship to his son Elias have suffered from his do-goodery. The other father, Claus, just lost his wife to cancer, and his son Christian blames him for it. Elias and Christian end up in the same school and become friends. Elias is naïve and adores his father; Christian is cynical and miserable. Let’s just say that Christian is a bad influence.
One day, in front of Elias and Christian, Anton breaks up a fight between two kids, physically separating them. One of the kids' tough-guy father confronts Anton and ends up slapping him in the face. Anton basically does the turn-the-other-cheek thing and refuses to retaliate. Christian sees this as weakness; Elias is ashamed that his father may be a weenie.
Anton is no wallflower—he’s risking his life every time he traipses off to Africa, even having a run-in with one of those Idi Amin-type warlords--and coming out on top. But he’s like one of those sitcom fathers who tells his kid that when dealing with a bully, talking always works better than violence. Isn’t that common sense? The kids don’t see it that way and they have a different approach (hint, the Danish title for the film is actually “the Revenge.”)
|The result of the non-violent approach|
The relationship the boys have to their fathers and to each other is the heart of the film. But I thought the movie would have worked a bit better on a less epic stage. The photography in Africa was great to look at, but the scenes there were a bit superfluous to the main story, and whenever Anton was there I just felt things dragged a bit. Also, the story’s resolution felt contrived and unsatisfying. Honestly, the strained marriage thing between Anton and his wife was unnecessary. Which was kind of how I felt about this film. Not bad, really. Just unnecessary.
The Title: Hævnen, or The Revenge. That’s a better title for the purposes of grabbing you; not sure why this was released with the blah title of In a Better World.
The Culture: I really didn’t learn much about Danish culture; the scenes in Africa were probably more instructive.
Agenda Danger: Turn the other cheek is a pretty decent message. Just be sure to have an ice pack waiting at home to put on your black eye.
Best Picture that year: The King’s Speech
Rating: To me, not a great Danish film. Danish cinema has a long history of mainstream success and this is Denmark’s third BFF award. For my money, a better Danish film called The Hunt came two years later, losing to Italy’s The Great Beauty. The Hunt tells the Kafkaesque story of a teacher accused of sexual imposition in a small town school. In a better world, that movie would have won the Oscar rather than In a Better World.